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Fate of the Titianic Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Ricardo J. Elia

Ever since Titanic was rediscovered in 1985, images of the ship's bow, dripping with rusty concretions, have become familiar. But how long before Titanic deteriorates to the point where little remains? The question is of more than academic interest, since the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and France are considering a treaty that would make in situ preservation the preferred policy at the site.

RMS Titanic Inc. (RMST), a for-profit company that has recovered thousands of artifacts from the wreck site since 1993, claims that Titanic is deteriorating rapidly and that aggressive salvaging of artifacts must continue before the site disappears (see "Letters," March/April 2001, p. 6).

Last August, RMST attorney David Concannon told The Ottawa Citizen, "Our jaws were wide open...it had deteriorated so much, even from last year. According to the historical engineer we have on board, it's showing signs of weakening that could lead to a catastrophic failure. Maybe next year, maybe in two years, maybe four years." Ironically, a recently published scientific study originally sponsored by the salvage firm suggests Titanic is unlikely to suffer catastrophic collapse, but will probably deteriorate gradually over hundreds of years. Writing in Canadian Chemical News (November/December 2000), D. Roy Cullimore and Lori Johnston conclude from a study of Titanic's "rusticles" (those rusty concretions that appear to drip from the ship's hull), "There appears, at this time, to be evidence not of a catastrophic structural failure about to occur in the near future, but rather of a gradual collapse that would follow a somewhat predictable pattern."

Cullimore and Johnson recovered rusticles from the ship in 1996 and 1998. Their analysis revealed that the rusticles were complex bioconcretions feeding on iron. The scientists estimate that, assuming that the rusticles remove iron at a constant rate, it will take 280 to 420 years for the iron in Titanic's bow section to be depleted.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America